Eternity! The word exploded in spectacular illumination contrasting the natural beauty of Sydney harbour. It was a profound statement to the world. That was New Year 2000, and it ushered in a new millennia.
Ignatius Jones who orchestrated that display, when asked about his choice said, “It’s incredibly Sydney!”
C.S. Lewis gave profound weight to the word:
“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I was going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever.”
A man of humble circumstances named Arthur Stace, became part of Sydney folklore because he anonymously chalked the word Eternity throughout the city.
Stace was born in the slums of Balmain. He was a neglected child and suffered difficulties at the hands of his alcoholic parents. Arthur was jailed at age 15 for drunken behavior. He learned to take care of himself, he stole food to survive, and he helped his sisters in running brothels.
Peter Rahme wrote about Arthur Stace in his Tribute to Influential Australian Christians (October 2010):
“By his 20s he was in and out of prison for housebreaking and other offenses and had developed a heavy drinking habit. Left half-blind after a gas attack in WW1, he slipped further into poverty and such extreme alcoholism that he was in danger of becoming a permanent inmate of the mental asylum. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t give up the drink,”
Stace was desperate. In his search for free food he found St Barnabas Church, Broadway. That night August 6, 1930 Arthur Stace prayed. “I went in to get a cup of tea and a rock cake, but I met the Rock of Ages,” he said.
His circumstances were so far removed from that of C.S. Lewis but spiritually they connected.
In a Darlinghurst church in 1942 he heard the preacher emphatically declare: “I wish I could shout eternity through the streets of Sydney. Eternity! Eternity! Eternity!” The impact on young Arthur was profound.
He was compelled to begin his one word sermon throughout the Sydney streets. He is quoted as saying:
“The funny thing is I could hardly spell my own name. I had no schooling and couldn’t have spelt ‘Eternity” for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly in beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it. I still can’t.”
The beauty of his handwriting stunned those who knew him. It is estimated he wrote Eternity more than 500,000 times, always in yellow waterproof chalk. His productivity was impressive. He wrote Eternity up to 50 times a day.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported: “His anonymous sermon appeared for three decades until the Rev Lisle Thompson, minister of the Burton Street Tabernacle in Darlinghurst, revealed Stace’s identity in the early 1950s to the Sunday Telegraph…..Stace was quoted as saying when he was “running hot” it cost him “six bob a day in chalk”.
He estimated the police arrested him ‘about 24 times’ but he added:
“They never charged me or took it any further, God was looking after me.”
When asked if he varied his message he replied: “No it’s always been the same. I did write ‘Obey God’ sometimes but not often. I think ‘eternity’ gets the message across, makes people stop and think.”
His daily routine was consistent. Awake at 4 a.m., pray for an hour, breakfast, then out and about. He prayed again at mid-day and then spent the afternoon helping missions and rescue societies. Arthur was also a street preacher, sharing the gospel with his amplifier. His Wednesday nights were spent visiting with derelicts at a Methodist hostel. A diminutive man, he was 160 cms tall (5 feet, 3 inches) and weighed just 45kgs (7 stone).
Arthur Stace was known as Mr Eternity. He died of stroke in 1967, aged 83. When interviewed for a newspaper story, Arthur said: “I don’t expect to leave here under my own steam. But that doesn’t worry me, I want to join the Lord.”
Rev Thompson said:
“Arthur’s one word sermon has challenged many thousands. No one will ever know how many lives it has influenced, perhaps as dramatically as Arthur Stace’s own life was influenced August 6, 1930.”
How many millions were impressed when a display on Sydney Harbour declared ‘Eternity’ to the world? Even Mr Eternity would be amazed what God can do with a simple act of faith.